Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 5

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 4>

Theme Three: Insufficient Grounding in Vedanta Traditions

A third theme criticizes NTMA teachers for their lack of grounding in the Sanskrit language and Advaita scriptures, and their concomitantly premature assumption of the guru role. TMA proponents see this grounding as essential for any teacher who is to be an effective agent of Advaita awakening. Without it, the Advaita system of self-realization gets watered down, key Sanskrit terms are misinterpreted, and NTMA teaching becomes little more than a psychological massage for stressed-out Westerners.

Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, a frequent TMA commentator on various Advaita-oriented discussion forums, bluntly summarizes the TMA position: “In ‘Advaita’ you get enlightenment only through study of Upanishads and other Vedic scriptures. All other religious practices including meditations etc. are considered at best a preparation of mind to understand the message of Upanishads and at worst superfluous.” [Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, “Watering down Advaita: Westerners Corrupt Hindu Terminology!” Sarlo’s Guru Rating Service, at <>, accessed 6 May 2013. The first entry is written by Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, but the whole seems to be Waite’s.]

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Book Review: dṛg dṛśya viveka, Clarissa

Over the next couple of months, I will be posting some book reviews that I made 10+ years ago, which are no longer available elsewhere on the Internet.

The first of these is:
dṛg dṛśya viveka, Clarissa, Lulu Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4452-0858-9. (171 pages), $19.62 from Also available from Watkins Books, 21 Cecil Court, London WC2, £12.99.

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Q.511 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 4

Part 4 – Experience

Q: While I agree with your statement about philosophers over intellectualizing the truth, there is something about Greg’s writing that is so magnetic to me. I really think he is the most articulate writer I have ever come across. Usually when I write, I feel a big part of what I’m trying to get across gets lost, whereas with Greg, I feel like 100% of what he’s trying to express comes through perfectly. I’m going through Standing as Awareness at the moment and the clarity with which he writes is so so beautiful.

But as you can probably sense by my emails, I’m a bit disappointed with the direct path. It is without a doubt the clearest and most direct teaching I have come across (so far), and the teachers themselves are brilliant, and I have no doubt that they understand the truth, and also live their understanding, but I feel I am craving something more systematic and formalized, that can answer these questions I have without confusion.

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AtmA anubhava / anubhUti:

Telugu is a very ancient Indian language that has its roots in Sanskrit. The total number of the letters as well as the letters in the Alphabets of  both the languages are the same. Almost 90 % of the nouns and adjectives in Telugu come from Sanskrit. Moreover, any of the Sanskrit words can be translated into Telugu easily by adopting the Telugu equivalents of the “case” suffixes (vibhakti pratyaya-s).

With all the above given, however, when I was rendering into English some of the Vedantic texts, I found to my dismay, that over time, the meanings of the some of the words in Telugu got transformed into a different sense than the exact phonetically sounding original Sanskrit word! It was a task for me as a Telugu speaker to get instilled into my brain that a particular Sanskrit word, though the same as in Telugu, connotes a different meaning than what I am accustomed to. Continue reading

Q.446 satyam, j~nAnam anantam brahma

Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)

A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.

So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!) Continue reading

On “shraddha”:

Vedanta demands “shraddha” from every seeker who is eager to learn or study Advaita philosophy. It’s a basic requirement. But what exactly is shraddha?

Unfortunately, the Sanskrit word ‘shraddha‘ does not have an exact equivalent in the English language.

tattvabodha asks: What is the nature of ‘shraddha‘? And it answers:
“Faith in the words of the Guru and the scriptures is shraddha.”

aparokShAnubhUti, verse 8 also says:  निगमाचार्यवाक्येषु भक्तिः श्रद्धेति विश्रुता । 

(nigama AcArya vakyeShu bhaktiH shraddheti vishrutA)

It means: shraddha is “implicit faith in the word of the scripture and the teacher.”

vivekacUDAmaNi, verse 25 is a bit more elaborate on ‘shraddha.’ One of the translations of this verse reads: “THAT by which one understands the import of the scriptures as well as the pregnant words of the advice of the preceptor is called by the wise as ‘shraddha.’
The word implies an ability to embrace the Truth, explains another of the translators of this verse. Continue reading

Sanskrit: language of the gods part 2


Here is the second of a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. (One of a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Dennis


Sanskrit: language of the gods (Part 2) – Peter Bonnici

(Read Part 1)

The ability of Sanskrit to convey truth expressed through the vision of advaita is the holy grail pursued by Paul Douglas in ‘Language and Truth’. The explicit influences on Douglas’s understanding of Sanskrit come from two main sources: his spiritual guide, Shantananda Saraswati, one time AcArya of Jyotir Math in BadrinAth, and the linguist and grammarian BhatRRihari. In that sense it is a devotee’s book, a book that explores the language to validate the teachings of the guru, in particular, one of his statements: ‘The grammatical rules of Sanskrit are also the rules of creation’.

The book gives the general reader a good insight into the building blocks of the language and to the evolution of nouns and verbs from seed form (dhAtu) to fully inflected word in a sentence (pada). In clear, readable language we are given insights into the elements of Sanskrit that support the premise that the author wants to understand. Continue reading

Sanskrit: language of the gods part 1


I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis

Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici

There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.

Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:

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Dr Sastry Memorial Lecture on the Vedas

Dr. Subhanu Saxena posted the following message at one of the online fora. It has a link to a 1:30:41 duration Video where one can watch a demo of Vedic recitation and the meaning of the mantras.

Message from Subhanu:

“We recently gave the inaugural memorial lecture for our dear departed Dr Satyanarayana Shastri, a great Sanskrit and Veda scholar who did much to promote the study of Sanskrit, Veda and Vedanta. The event was organized at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan London last Sunday and together with my Gurus from Mattur we gave a very brief overview of the Vedas to provoke interest and inspire people to take up the study of our ancient traditions. The lecture is given below and the Q&A will be posted shortly. We hope you enjoy the talk. Please feel free to share it with anybody who you believe can benefit from it
Thanks and regards
Subhanu ”

Tattvabodha – Part 16

Part 16 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 16 looks at the ‘definition’ of Atman as sat-chit-ananda – existence-consciousness-bliss and concludes the section on Atma vichAra.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.